Just 24 hours after Ellen DeGeneres first aired her “The Masked Singer” spoof segment, “The Masked Dancer,” on her eponymous daytime talk show, Fox’s head of alternative entertainment and specials Rob Wade started making phone calls.
“The day after it aired [on ‘Ellen’] was the day I phoned up that production company — January of last year, almost a year ago,” he told Variety.
The series announcement, unveiled Tuesday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour, involves celeb contestants performing “unique dances, while covered from head-to-toe in elaborate costumes and face masks, leaving audiences to guess their identities.”
While the entire format hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet, some ideas are being bounced around.
“Obviously the difference in the format is the fact that you don’t hear someone’s voice, yet you still have to guess, so we need to work out ways to help the viewer guess people in a slightly different way,” said Wade. “It doesn’t have to be a solo dance. It could be a group dance or dances with another person who doesn’t have a mask on, so you can have partners as well, which would give you the ability to have a variety of different dances. I think it’s a question of how you can get the clues out.”
But you’d have to be a pretty astute observer to pin down a celebrity by his or her dance moves alone. So one element from “Masked Singer” is definitely staying intact: hearing the contestant’s voice.
“I think you have to have a voice element,” said Wade, adding that his team is “going to play around with toning down the modulation of the voices so you can hear a little bit more of the intonation.”
Fox has just started casting the competition series, which will be exec produced by DeGeneres and Warner Bros. Unscripted & Alternative Television. while it pins down a pre-production schedule. Production could begin in March or April. The show will film in Los Angeles.
As for its popular “The Masked Singer,” Wade said changes were made to the format in order to allow viewers to invest in fewer characters and not lose track of the players.
In Season 3, the 18 celeb contestants will be divided into three groups and whittled down to the top three in each group before pitting the “Super Nine” against one another in a more traditional format.
“I think it felt like [the viewer] was getting confused in who was there, and it’s difficult to track stories, so we’re trying to help track story better,” he said.
With “The Masked Singer” and now “The Masked Dancer” coming to people’s TV screens, should viewers expect more masked varietals of competition shows from the network? In short, no. It’s not a bottomless format, he said, although there’s room enough within the current two iterations for experimentation.
“They’re quite big formats,” said Wade. “I think there could be offshoots in those verticals, but I don’t know where you’d go after singing or dancing.”